While the seventh-season TNG episode “Lower Decks” is the primary inspiration for the animated series Lower Decks, “Lower Decks” itself owes a big chunk of its storyline to the fifth-season TNG episode “The First Duty.” While three of the lower-decks characters who were the focus of that episode were new, two were already established: Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, who’d been a recurring character on the show since the fourth season, and Ensign Sito Jaxa, who was one of the cadets involved in the shenanigans in “The First Duty.”
On last week’s “The Inner Fight,” we found out that Sito was one of Mariner’s best friends at the Academy, and that her death in “Lower Decks” is one of the primary factors behind Mariner’s constant self-sabotage. “Lower Decks” showed us what happened to Sito after “The First Duty,” and TNG’s “Journey’s End” did the same for Wes Crusher. And now we get the full story of what happened to the ringleader, Nick Locarno.
The episode starts with a flashback to Starfleet Academy thirteen years ago, as we see four of the five members of Nova Squadron talking about doing a Kolvoord Starburst. We actually see Joshua Albert for the first time, as he was already dead by the time “The First Duty” started. Not only is Robert Duncan McNeill back to voice Locarno (as he was for the character’s cameo last week), but Wil Wheaton and Shannon Fill return to voice Wes and Sito, respectively. (There is no sign or mention of Cadet Hajar.)
The best part of this opening scene, though, is seeing Mariner from thirteen years ago. She’s an eager young cadet, geebling at Sito about how wonderful her classes are. What’s especially hilarious is that she sounds exactly like Boimler in this scene. She’s quickly abandoned, though, because Nova Squadron has to go off and do important things (and also illegal things).
One of the flaws of “The First Duty” was that we had no real context for the veneration of Nova Squadron that led to their arrogantly deciding to do a dangerous, illegal maneuver, which then got one of their squadron killed. Thirty-one years later, we finally get at least some context, with both Wes and Albert expressing concern, and Locarno running right over them and saying everything will be fine.
In the present day, Locarno has been attacking various ships, sending the command crews into exile (as we saw last week) and giving the lower ranks a chance to take over. They’ve all gathered in a single star system, which is protected by a Trynar Shield, about which we learn nothing beyond that it’s a stupid name (which Mariner, of course, points out) and that it’s very powerful. In honor of the group of cadets who did something stupid and committed manslaughter, Locarno has named his independent group “Nova Fleet.”
Locarno has invited any lower ranks who want to join Nova Fleet to do so. He insists it’s a collective where those lower-decks folks won’t have to take stupid orders from annoying top brass. That insistence doesn’t last very long, mind you, as Locarno is pretty quickly giving orders and expecting the others to obey him—which most of them don’t wanna…
There are two wild cards in Locarno’s plan. One is that one of the ships he went after—the Ferengi, as seen in “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place”—had a Genesis Device, which Locarno is now using as his leverage to keep people out of his haven.
The other is Mariner. Locarno assumes that Mariner will eagerly join Nova Fleet, because she’s remained lower-ranking because she hates what the brass want her to do—and what they made Sito do. But Mariner has matured a lot since—well, last week, and understands that Sito died because she believed in Starfleet.
And so she grabs the Genesis Device and buggers off in the U.S.S. Passaro, a Starfleet ship that is part of Locarno’s fleet, using her mother’s command codes to take over.
Mariner commits her act of rebellion against her kidnapper while he’s on an open subspace channel to, basically, the entire Alpha Quadrant, so everyone knows what she’s done. Including the Cerritos. Freeman wants to go save her daughter, but Admiral Doofus tells her to stand fast. Because so many different nations are represented by Locarno’s band of merry ensigns, it’s a diplomatic hot potato.
Freeman, however, is not willing to sit still when her daughter’s in danger. So she disobeys orders and decides to go rescue her. Tendi has a notion on how to do that: they go to her sister D’Erika and ask for a warship. D’Erika refuses, so Tendi challenges her to barter by combat! If Tendi wins, they get an Orion warship; if D’Erika wins, she gets the Cerritos.
Just a couple of days ago, in my rewatch of Enterprise’s “United,” I was wishing for a moratorium on fights to the death where nobody dies, and then this happens on LD. Le sigh. At least this one was played for laughs, and it actually amused the hell out of me. Tendi and D’Erika each got to pick a champion. D’Erika picks a big and strong Orion woman. While Shaxs, Ransom, and Kayshon are all flexing their muscles and ready to jump in, Tendi instead picks Migleemo.
In true Tendi fashion, this was a clever move, because it turns out that the Orion bruiser in question has a brutal allergy to feathers, and she collapses. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she collapses right on top of Migleemo, so she still wins the fight.
Tendi, though, has a backup plan: she offers herself in place of the Cerritos. D’Erika will consolidate her power if she has the Mistress of the Winter Constellations at her side, so she agrees. Tendi will return home after Mariner is rescued.
D’Erika has one final fuck-you for her sister, though: she provides a warship, yes, but it’s old, clapped-out, and non-functioning. Undeterred, our heroes tow the warship to Nova Fleet and ram it into the Trynar Shield. That brings it down long enough for Freeman to pilot a shuttle through and rescue Mariner.
For her part, Mariner uses the Passaro to play cat-and-mouse with various ships in Locarno’s fleet, not just fighting, but also sowing dissent. It’s fun watching her talk to the Genesis Device, which she makes her honorary first officer and refers to as “GD” throughout, mostly so she has someone to talk to while she’s on the run.
In the end, of course, it’s a final confrontation between her and Locarno. Backed into a corner, Mariner starts the countdown on the Genesis Device. Locarno tries to deactivate it, Mariner tries to stop him, then she’s beamed away by Freeman. Locarno manages to enter the deactivation sequence—
—and then the Ferengi computer program that is running the device asks for two bars of latinum to continue. Locarno’s final words are, “They put a paywall on a bomb?”
Of course they did! It’s the Ferengi!
I have to admit to laughing my ass off at that part. That was just so perfect, and completely in character. I love that Locarno was able to deactivate the bomb, because despite what most dramatic fiction would have you believe, bombs are actually fairly easy to disable if you know what you’re doing. But of course the Ferengi would require payment to finish the process!
It’s brilliant, a perfect LD ending, as it’s still very Trek, but also quite funny.
The rest of the episode is—fine? I dunno, I think the concept was a lot more interesting than the execution. It’s a nifty idea—and very fitting for the show—to have Locarno gather a bunch of lower ranks to form a fleet of lower-decks folks, but the execution doesn’t really go anywhere particularly interesting. The Locarno-Mariner interactions are fun, but the rest of Nova Fleet doesn’t entirely work. I mean, sure, it’s a fun notion, but do we really believe that all the low-ranking folks thought it was a good idea to take over? Would they really all be united in getting into Nova Fleet? I mean, sure, the Ferengi, but I can’t see a plurality of Romulans or the Klingons, or anyone who’s part of a military going along with this. Some would, sure, but—I dunno, I just didn’t really buy that they’d all rally ’round this random human dude who got cashiered out of Starfleet for getting someone killed while doing something phenomenally stupid.
However, it was fun to watch Mariner dash about staying one step ahead of Nova Fleet. And it was fun to watch Tendi work her Orion magic to save her friend.
As a finale, this episode works beautifully. Besides resolving the mystery ship thing that’s been running through the whole season, as well as Mariner’s ongoing difficulties with being promoted, it picks up on the Genesis Device from “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” and the Tendi family drama from “Something Borrowed, Something Green.” We even get a resolution for T’Lyn, as this season’s events have shown her that she fits in on the Cerritos and wishes to stay rather than return to the Vulcan fleet. She’s even willing to be Tendi’s science bestie.
Alas, that will have to wait, as Tendi has to fulfill her end of the bargain with D’Erika. (Despite the fact that her sister screwed them with the crap-shit warship.) It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but the season is left hanging with Tendi’s fate, as we end with her returning home and Boimler, Mariner, Rutherford, and T’Lyn all not happy to see her go. (Especially Rutherford.)
However, the show’s been renewed for a fifth season, so we will find out what happens next. Hopefully some time in 2024….
- I’m pleased to report that the “resemblance” between Locarno and Tom Paris (whom the Cerritos crew met in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”) was lampshaded. When he appears on the Cerritos viewscreen, Rutherford says he looks just like Paris, and Boimler says, “I don’t see it.” Perfect…
- Boimler also gets to sit in the command chair, as he’s put in charge of the bridge while Freeman, Ransom, and Shaxs are all in the shuttle flying through the Trynar Shield after the Orion ship smashes through it. Boimler’s presence in the command chair also serves to confuse and annoy Admiral Doofus when he calls.
- Like every other Star Trek character who disobeys orders to further the plot (Spock in “The Menagerie,” Picard in Insurrection, Sisko in “The Die is Cast,” Seven in “Prey,” Archer in “First Flight”), Freeman suffers no consequences for her violation of regulations, even though it should get her court-martialed and kicked out of the fleet. Lather, rinse, repeat, and at least Admiral Doofus has a good excuse for letting her off the hook: she successfully opened relations with the Orions.
- Yes, I know Admiral Doofus is really named Vassery, but I feel my name for him is more appropriate.
- When the Genesis Device is detonated, the visual effect of its immediate aftermath looks exactly like it did at the end of The Wrath of Khan. Mariner’s cat-and-mouse games with Nova Fleet in the Passaro had several visual cues reminiscent of the Enterprise and Reliant’s gadding about in the nebula in that movie as well.
- The Passaro was named after Fabio Passaro, one of the digital artists who did a lot of CGI work on various ships for LD, who sadly died a year ago.
- Seriously, what about Hajar? I mean, fine, maybe you couldn’t get Walker Brandt to do the voice for whatever reason (though she’s still working and is doing lots of voiceover work), but have her there at least…
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s latest work is The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, an anthology published by WhysperWude, the very small press started by Keith and Wrenn Simms, who also co-edited the book. The anthology features alternate takes on the end-of-the-world avatars—the four PTA Moms of the apocalypse, the four lawyers of the apocalypse, the four cats of the apocalypse, the four cheerleaders of the apocalypse, etc.—by more than a score of authors, among them fellow Trek scribes David Gerrold, Derek Tyler Attico, David Mack, Peter David, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, and Aaron Rosenberg; New York Times best-selling authors Seanan McGuire, Jody Lynn Nye, and Jonathan Maberry; and tons more. Ordering links and the full table of contents can be found here.